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Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Effective in Treating Sleep Apnea in Older Adults

First Posted: Aug 27, 2014 05:38 AM EDT

A team of researchers has found that continuous airway pressure is very effective in treating older patients suffering from sleep apnea. 

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep. This hinders normal breathing and causes profound sleepiness. People with moderate or severe OSA are asked to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. This device has a small pump that gives pressurized air into the nose through a mask, preventing the throat from closing.

Co-principal investigator Dr.Renata Riha said, "Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea, impact on a wide variety of chronic conditions, potentially leading to their development or worsening them, including diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and possibly even cancer. Successful treatment diminishes this risk but we still have a great deal of work to do in the area."

Studies conducted earlier have highlighted the benefits of CPAP in middle-aged people suffering from OSA, but not much is known on whether this treatment is benefiting and or of it is cost-effective for older patients with OSA. The new study is led by researchers at the Imperial College London and Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

They found that the CPAP device is effective in lowering how sleepy patients feel during the day and helps lower their healthcare costs. They recommend that this CPAP treatment should be given routinely to older patients with OSA. The researchers highlight the need to raise awareness of the condition.

The finding is based on the analysis of 278 patients aged 65 years or above at 14 NHS centers in the UK. It was noticed that nearly 20 percent of the adult population reported having breathing problems during sleep. In 4-5 percent of the middle-aged people, the problems were known to cause sleepiness during the sleep that is known as obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.

This problem is believed to be more common among the seniors. But, the real occurrence is not known completely as patients link their sleepiness to their old age. This is becoming more common as obesity is a major risk factor.

Professor Mary Morrell, co-principal investigator of the study from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, said: "Sleep apnoea can be hugely damaging to patients' quality of life and increase their risk of road accidents, heart disease and other conditions. Lots of older people might benefit from this treatment. Many patients feel rejuvenated after using CPAP because they're able to sleep much better and it may even improve their brain function."

Those with sleep apnea stop breathing for almost 30 seconds or longer at night before they wake up and start breathing again. During this, the blood oxygen levels drop.

The finding is published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

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